Having lived in the extreme heat of summertime in the Sunshine State for many years, I can honestly tell you that the older I get, the more intense the sun and heat feel to me. That’s the case with seniors in the summer months. After all, retired winter “snowbirds” always fly back up North to escape the hot summer months we experience in paradise!
I was reading about a recent study conducted at University of Chicago Medical Center that found as many as 40% of heat-related deaths in the United States occurred among people age 65 and older. With such an alarmingly high percentage of heat-related fatalities among aging adults in America, I think it's important to share 10 summer safety tips for seniors, in a small attempt to lower this troubling stat.
- Stay Hydrated. This goes for anyone of any age, but most importantly for seniors and the elderly. It’s been my experience that aging adults don’t typically drink enough water as it is, but it’s especially critical since seniors are more likely to be dehydrated, because their bodies are unable to conserve as much water as they used to, and they don’t feel as thirsty. It is recommended seniors drink eight glasses of water or sports drinks each day and stay away from caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
- Talk to Doctor or Pharmacist. Most seniors take medications for any number of ailments or conditions, so be sure to consult a doctor or pharmacist to make sure spending time in the sun and heat will not cause negative reactions with prescribed meds, and gain clearance to participate in the outdoor activities.
- Wear Proper Clothing. Grandma may pull on her polyester slacks every day, but she should select clothing that is lightweight, light-colored, and loose fitting, preferably made from cotton or other natural fabrics. Wide-brimmed hats are also a good idea to shade the face, neck and shoulders.
- Slather Sunscreen. Seniors who know they will be out in the hot sun should always liberally apply broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays, SPF 30 or greater, a minimum of 15-20 minutes before going outdoors. If plans include water fun, bring with to reapply frequently to stay covered.
- Protect Your Peepers. Most seniors have some level of vision impairment anyway, but the sun’s dangerous rays can make vision even worse. Always wear sunglasses– prescription or otherwise – that protect eyes from those dangerous rays.
- Stay Indoors During Crunch Times. Schedule tee times, water aerobics, walks, or other outdoor activities earlier in the morning, before 10:00am, or during the evenings after the sun starts to set, and the heat of the sun doesn’t feel as hot. Here on the West Coast, evening times may be a bit later, depending upon where your activity is located.
- Stay Alert of Heat Stroke. Heat stroke can become fatal if not caught in time. Always be aware of the signs of heat stroke which include high body temperature, dizziness, nausea, headache and confusion. If these symptoms occur, seek immediate medical attention.
- Cool-off. Lukewarm or tepid baths, sponge baths or showers can help seniors cool off. If those are not viable options, consider using wet washcloths, towels, or store-bought “Frog Togs” dampened by cool water and apply to the neck, wrists, ankles and armpits.
- Communicate with Family or Neighbors. If plans include an extended period of time outside, seniors should make sure a caregiver, family member or neighbor knows about the activity. That way, a welfare check, or courtesy call can be scheduled to ensure the senior doesn’t get overheated and makes it back indoors, safe and sound.
- Air Conditioning Rules. I’ve been without air conditioning while living in Florida, and it is not a pleasant experience, trust me. If you can stay indoors in air-conditioned spaces, do so. If you do not have air conditioning, use fans to keep air circulating, but try to go someplace with a/c: a mall where you can window shop; a library for peaceful reading, a restaurant for an inexpensive senior meal; a movie theater for the latest box office hit; or maybe visit a friend or family member. (Remember: The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps adults 65 and older who have limited incomes cover the cost of air conditioners and utility bills. To reach your state’s LIHEAP program, call 1-866-674-6327.)
I hope these ten summer safety tips for seniors are helpful to you and/or the senior loved ones in your life. None of us want to hear tragic news of a special elderly adult perishing because of the heat.
The compassionate caregivers at Home Helpers® can help seniors with safe transportation assistance to indoor or outdoor activities and events; provide companionship; assist with shopping, and so much more. I am happy to offer a FREE Consultation to discuss ways we can enhance the lives of seniors, keep them safe, and improve their overall quality of life during the summertime or anytime!
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